Since the mid-90s, when Leeds became the first British city to have broadband and digital coverage, the creative and digital industries (CDI) in the city have steadily grown. In the past twelve years, the number of people working for the sector, in Leeds, has increased by 20%, with 12,750 people said to be working in the cities sector, which is predominantly made up of small businesses and freelancers, as well as some big company names such as Rockstar Leeds.
Overall, the creative and digital sector covers a large range of outputs from media, music and computer games to software and its contribution to the Yorkshire and Humber economy is said to be around £5.21billion. For a sector that only really kicked off ten to fifteen years ago this seems like quite a large sum of money and a great boost to the regions economy.
Having said this, the region does recognise that the creative and digital industries are a sector that has the potential for growth. Last year Leeds Initiative, the cities local strategic partnership, which in conjunction with the council, aims to improve the city, issued a paper, called the ‘Leeds Economic Growth Plan’ and named the CDI as a key sector that will drive growth. Dinah Clark, the Leeds Initiative Program Manager, says that Leeds is at the core of this sector.
“We have got what we call the creative and digital sector which we have identified as one of the sectors in the city that we want to see growing and developing and expanding in the future. We know Leeds is a high growth; it is a centre for the creative and digital industries in our region so in the Yorkshire we’re the centre for those industries. [So] we need to get as much out of that sector as we can and yet it is full of little businesses and as you say they have problems with banks, finding suitable places to work out of and they find rents in the city a bit to expensive so it is very tempting to go and work somewhere cheaper like Bradford or Wakefield.”
Its these small businesses and freelance workers that seem to be finding it hard in the industry, as getting money to inject into their business is increasingly difficult when they see them as too high risk to actually lend them money. “I think it’s hard for everyone to get loans these days,” explains Dinah, “…but yes traditional CDI businesses have said that [they] haven’t been able to get a loan from the bank and have had to get a second mortgage out on [their] house because they are small business owners and they are seen as high risk.”
Dinah also says however, that businesses in the regions sector need to get sharper business skills, as this is a big problem in the area and probably a reason why some companies struggle. “I guess what they need to do is skill themselves up as best they can to manage themselves as business…. apparently one of the real problems about the sector is that there is a lot of creative people and good ideas but they are not so good at making money out of them. They need better business skills and how do they get better business skills? I guess the best way is to try and get themselves apprenticed to someone who is already succeeding.”
The latter ‘they’ Dinah is mostly referring too and who she says could get apprenticeships to help teach them some business skills; are graduates many of which she says “[Come] out of university and say that they are well educated but maybe they don’t have much experience of being part of a business operation. So they need to get those skills and I think the best way for them to do that is to try and get themselves a placement with a cdi businesses in the city or voluntary placement.”
Seen as a popular career choice, the creative and digital sector is in high demand for jobs at the moment and Alistair Hay, the Northern Technology Institute’s Clients Relations man, says this is emphasized in the amount of people applying to universities courses, affiliated with the sector. “The popularity of the creative and digital sector as a career can be seen by the number of students taking creative and digital courses at University’s across the Yorkshire and Humber region, as well as the level of competition for positions with employers across the region. The creative and digital sector is a popular career choice for many people, as it allows individuals to combine their passion for coding, video editing, graphic design and so on with a career,” explains Alistair.
He also goes on to add that, “There are also growing numbers of freelancers in the region, and NTI Leeds runs the regions original co-working space for creative and digital freelancers at Old Broadcasting House.” The Northern Technology Institute, for those who don’t know, is the regions Apple authorised training centre, which is based here in Leeds. They offer a wide selection of Apple training courses, as well as some courses for small businesses in the sector, which focus on things such as Search Engine Optimisation and Word Press.
These courses are apparently, “consistently popular” and Alistair puts it down to the calibre of training they offer. “The popularity of our courses is due to the extremely high-quality of the training we offer, which is delivered by the best trainers in the business, and the highly-specialised nature of many of our courses, which has led delegates from as far-afield as Australia to attend,” he explains, “We also have a superb training facility, based at Old Broadcasting House in Leeds city centre, and a very client-driven approach to everything we do, which results in a very high level of client satisfaction.”
With high-standard institutes like this training more and more people to work in the sector, university courses become increasingly popular and Leeds Initiative naming the creative and digital industries as an area for the growth, the CDI’s does not seem like it is going to slow down any time soon. Yet, with more competition always growing in the sector and with more and more graduates filtering through, will this in turn lead to more unemployment and more debt for people, as starting businesses struggle to get financial aid? Only time will tell but hopefully the industry in both Leeds and Yorkshire will continue to grow and people will continue to work in the sector, despite the obstacles standing in their way.